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Trump administration has reached no 'final conclusion' on Khashoggi killing

State Department seems to contradict reports CIA implicated Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince in Khashoggi slaying
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AFP/file photo)

The Trump administration on Saturday said it had not reached a final conclusion on who was involved in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.

"Recent reports indicating that the US government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement cited by AFP.

"We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia."

"There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr Khashoggi. The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts," she said. 

"In the meantime, we will continue to consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi." 

She added that Washington had already taken "decisive measures" against individuals, including visa and sanctions actions. 

The remarks appeared to contradict reports that the Central Intelligence Agency’s assessment had determined Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Khashoggi, a vocal critic.

President Donald Trump and top administration officials have continued to stress the importance of Washington's ties with Riyadh, one of the biggest clients of the US defence industry, Reuters reported. Trump wants to preserve the Saudi arms deals, despite growing opposition in Congress.

"They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development," Trump said on Saturday. "As president, I have to take a lot of things into consideration."

Trump, while flying to California later on Saturday, discussed the CIA assessment by phone with the agency's director, Gina Haspel, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal tweeted on Saturday: "Trump must accept (for once) his intelligence experts’ incontrovertible conclusion: Crown Prince MBS is culpable for Khashoggi’s monstrous murder. This brazen killing must have consequences - sanctions, prosecution, removal of MBS & others, not continued cover-up, enabled by Trump."

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The Washington Post, which broke the CIA story, said the agency found that 15 Saudi agents flew on government aircraft to Istanbul and assassinated Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate.

Khashoggi, a Post columnist, had gone to the consulate to obtain documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Saudi Arabia - which quickly dismissed the reported CIA findings - has repeatedly changed its official narrative of the 2 October murder, first denying any knowledge of Khashoggi's whereabouts and later saying he was killed when an argument degenerated into a brawl.

In the latest version presented by the Saudi prosecutor on Thursday, a 15-member squad was formed to bring Khashoggi back from Istanbul "by means of persuasion" - but instead ended up killing the journalist and dismembering his body in a "rogue" operation.

MEE previously reported that Khashoggi was injected and killed by a Saudi hit squad soon after he entered the consulate. Turkish sources told MEE that Khashoggi’s body was swiftly cut into pieces. Turkish officials now believe that his remains were dissolved in acid and poured down the consulate’s drain.